SARS-CoV-2 was first reported circulating in human populations in December 2019 and has since become a global pandemic. Recent history involving SARS-like coronavirus outbreaks have demonstrated the significant role of intermediate hosts in viral maintenance and transmission. Evidence of SARS-CoV-2 natural infection and experimental infections of a wide variety of animal species has been demonstrated, and in silico and in vitro studies have indicated that deer are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection. White-tailed deer (WTD) are amongst the most abundant and geographically widespread wild ruminant species in the US. Recently, WTD fawns were shown to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2. In the present study, we investigated the susceptibility and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in adult WTD. In addition, we examined the competition of two SARS-CoV-2 isolates, representatives of the ancestral lineage A and the alpha variant of concern (VOC) B.1.1.7 through co-infection of WTD. Next-generation sequencing was used to determine the presence and transmission of each strain in the co-infected and contact sentinel animals. Our results demonstrate that adult WTD are highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and can transmit the virus through direct contact as well as vertically from doe to fetus. Additionally, we determined that the alpha VOC B.1.1.7 isolate of SARS-CoV-2 outcompetes the ancestral lineage A isolate in WTD, as demonstrated by the genome of the virus shed from nasal and oral cavities from principal infected and contact animals, and from the genome of virus present in tissues of principal infected deer, fetuses and contact animals.
- white-tailed deer